Mary Kershaw

I found this reference about Mary Williamson (nee Kershaw) in information rearding the Lychgate at St Pauls Chuch on Huddersfield Road in Stalybridge. Mary grew up on Cocker Hill and the Lychgate into St Pauls was a gift from Mary and her husband Tomas to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversiary. The Lychgate was constructed in 1904. This story provides a nice contrast to my earlier post about Joel and Margaret Broadbent also of Cocker Hill.

Thomas Williamson came to Stalybridge from Rochdale in 1850 when he was about 22 and set up as a watchmaker and jeweller in the town where he met Mary Kershaw. She was the daughter of a tallow chandler in Cocker Hill, and they were soon married. Mary had a lifelong connection with St Paul’s – it was said that she was present as a child at the laying of the foundation stone of the church as well as at similar ceremonies at New St George’s and St John’s, Dukinfield.

For the rest of their lives she and her husband were highly involved with St Paul’s where Thomas was twice a church warden and a substantial benefactor, and Mary was “a devoted and loving friend” of the church and its people.

Thomas moved from the jewellery trade to establish a brass founding firm, initially near the present Post Office and then on Cocker Hill and finally in Tame Valley at the Atlas Works which became successful and flourished. He was also a director of Albion Mills Co. Ltd. when it was incorporated in 1883.

Thomas and Mary lived at Brookfield Villa in the lower part of Mottram Road. They planted and made themselves responsible for the upkeep of the roadside trees in Mottram Road in addition to many other good works for the town which Thomas had adopted. He was a councilor in 1866-9 and again in 1879-85 and was a Justice of the Peace from 1880 onwards. He retired at 62 and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropic, public and religious work quietly and unostetatiously. His chief religious interest was St Paul’s where he was “devotedly engrossed, and with money, advice and labour did all he could to forward the good work of the Church”.

It seems that Thomas and Mary loved and were devoted to God, Stalybridge, St Paul’s and each other, but remained childless. When Mary died on Christmas Day 1909, aged 79, Thomas declared that he would die at Christmas to – he passed away two years later on December 13 aged 81.

There is no doubt that they, more than many of their contemporaries, made their mark on Stalybridge

This story appeared in the Ashton Reporter on 22 August 1903 under the headline


A Wife Charged With Murdering Her Husband.

Stalybridge was on Tuesday night thrown into a scene of the wildest excitement upon a rumour being circulated that a woman had made a murderous attack upon her husband with a knife, and that there was little hope of his recovery. The report only too true, for within about twelve hours of the perpetration of the deed the unfortunate husband had succumbed to haemorrhage, following upon loss of blood caused by a terrible wound in the neck.

The deceased was Joel BROADBENT, a forgeman employed at Messrs Summers’ Globe Ironworks, and he resided with his wife, Margaret BROADBENT, and two children, at a cottage, No 3 Cocker Hill, a short distance from the Town Hall. At nine o’clock — it appears from the statement of Mrs BROADBENT’s mother (Mrs Margaret DOCKNEY, who resided with the parties) — deceased arrived home and he and his wife exchanged a few heated words.

At that time there were two knives on the table, and fearing a disturbance Mrs DOCKNEY cleared the table of the pots. Whilst doing this it is alleged that her daughter picked up one of the knives — an ordinary weapon used for peeling potatoes — and stabbed her husband in the neck. What subsequently transpired is best gleaned from the account furnished by Constable Brierley GRIMSHAW.

This officer was on duty in the vicinity of the Town Hall when he saw BROADBENT knocking vigorously at Dr ROBERTS-DUDLEY’s surgery door. GRIMSHAW proceeded to ascertain the cause, and at once discovered that the man was bleeding profusely from an awful wound in the neck. The doctor not being at the house, the constable hurriedly conveyed the unfortunate man to Dr CLEMENTS’ surgery in Portland Place, and upon arriving there, BROADBENT utterly collapsed from loss of blood

By this time information of the tragic events had reached the Town Hall, and the poor man was conveyed in an unconscious state to the District Infirmary in the horse ambulance. Later on he recovered consciousness, but succumbed the following morning as stated.

From what the deceased man said, Constable GRIMSHAW afterwards went to a house in Avon-street, and there arrested Mrs BROADBENT. He took her to the police station, and she was locked up. After midnight the man’s dying depositions were taken at the Infirmary by Mr Jno WHITEHEAD (magistrates’ clerk) who was accompanied by Dr HOWE, JP, and Captain BATES (Chief Constable), and we understand that a very clear statement incriminating the prisoner was made.

Mrs BROADBENT was brought before the justices on Wednesday morning, at 10.30, her husband having died less than half an hour before the woman was transferred from the cell to the dock. The court was crowded, and as the prisoner, along with others for trial, was lead into the dock breathless silence prevailed, broken only by an occasional whimper on the part of Mrs BROADBENT.

One or two minor cases were disposed of, after which the Magistrates’ Clerk called upon the woman to stand up. She complied instantly. She stood against the dock rail, wearing a blue shawl over her head and shoulders, and only displayed a portion of her countenance as the Chief Constable asked the magistrates to hear formal evidence of arrest, and then remand prisoner for a week. In the meantime, added Captain BATES, the inquest would be held, and the woman would have to attend it.

Constable GRIMSHAW then came forward and said: Your worships, I arrested prisoner in a house in Avon-street at five minutes to nine o’clock last night. Just previously, I met deceased, bleeding profusely. I asked him who had caused the wound and he replied, “My wife, with a knife.” Upon charging her, she replied, “Yes; and if I had got a weapon I would serve you the way I served him. I don’t care what they do; I’m not afraid to die!” She was then locked up.

I have Ian Rhodes to thank for finding this story and highlighting it on his Yesterdays website. I find old newspaper stories fascinating. They really bring the past alive to me. Not sure if I’d have liked Cocker Hill then though; it sounds a little rougher than  it is now.

 The Churchyard on Cocker Hill has seen some changes in the almost 250 years it has been looking down on Stalybridge. Three Churches have come and gone on the site and there have been a number of fairly serious landslips.     

Looking at the graves and reading the inscriptions is interesting too. Some are just so sad;  for example in the one shown below for John and Peggy Kershaw you can see in the high infant mortality in the area only too easily. Their first child, Matty died in April 1800 aged 2 years, Mary died in May 1803 aged 4 weeks, Daniel died in june 1804 aged 9 weeks, Jno Hiram died in August 1807 aged 4 weeks, Nathaniel died in January 1811 aged 3 weeks, Margaret died in January 1812 aged 48 weeks and James died in February 1813 aged 7 weeks. John Kershaw died himself in 1821 aged 48 and Peggy died in 1841 aged 68. John was the Sexton at the Cocker Hill Chapel. There are many other memorials with similarly sad stories to tell.         

John and Peggy Kershaw and their Children


 Then there are other Gravestones that the “tourists” like to come and see in their groups on summer evenings like the one for Neddy Hall, owner of the first steam-powered Cotton Mills in the area. Neddy’s Mill was known as “Sootpoke Mill”         

There is a full list of all the gravestones and their inscriptions on the New St Georges Church Website.       

The Church and Churchyard were the first in Stalybridge. Built in 1776         

The land that the Church and Churchyard were built upon was originally owned by the Earl of Stamford. It was first conveyed in 1698 and was described in the deed as “a chance close, a parcel of land”  It is recorded that nothing was made of the land at the time. As the population of Stalybridge grew the need for a Church in Stalybridge  increased . The first Church was built on the site in 1776 and was consecrated as the “Chapel of St George in Staley Bridge within Ridgehill and the Lanes in the Parish of Ashton Under Lyne”.          

The first recorded Burial in the Churchyard was 16 January 1777.         

In a “return”  to the Bishop in 1821  the vicar the graveyard as described as being small-quite full and was kept in good order by allowing sheep to graze upon it.  Tameside council now keep the graveyard in good order with regular mowing, but it is not unknown for sheep to graze on it even now.  In the early hours of the morning a few years ago a neighbour of mine saw a small flock of sheep quietly grazing there……….we initially thought she was seeing things but it was a true a local sheep farmer had brought the sheep to graze on churchyard when his own grass was worn out.         

In the book Bygone Stalybridge there is an account of the funeral of  Joseph Hall of  Stalybridge. It describes  Joseph Hall as being connected with the Staly Hunt and describes his burial in the Cocker Hill church yard “attended by upwards of a hundred devout followers of the chase, many of them dressed in their well-worn livery, and attended by their faithful hounds”.  Apparently the sight provided material for a Lancashire sketch entitled “The Huntsman’s Funeral” by Ben Brierey.   

In February 1877 there was the first of two major landslips from the churchyard. Described as an “Alarming incident”. A section of the graveyard had collapsed onto the road below. An investigation by the police and the vicar showed that five or six coffins had fallen with the soil. The particular corner of the graveyard that fell was mainly used for the interment of still born children and it was these coffins that had fallen. Also when the work men began to sort through the debris it became clear that there appeared to have also been a number of  unofficial burials of still-born babies in addition to those in the Church records. Infant mortality was high in those days and many people could not afford to have their children buried. News of the landslip spread rapidly and by the early hours hundreds of people were viewing the scene and were reported to be “lining the bridge and adjoining places eager to get a view of all that had gone on.” The photo below shows the church and churchyard and the bridge where the crowds stood to see what was going on.         

Old St Georges Church and Churchyard.


 In 1968 the Church was demolished and in 1972 the churchyard was remodeled and landscaped  with new trees planted. This apparently made it easy to cut the grass and keep it tidy. I understand that it was at this time that the gravestones were moved into the positions they are now in forming steps down into Stalybridge.        

Cocker Hill Churchyard May 2010; The Gravestone Steps


A number of the past vicar’s from old St Georges had memorials in the Churchyard. The memorials for Rev Cape Atty and Rev Leeson can still be seen in the churchyard today. The memorials for Rev Kenworthy and Rev Jelly-Dudley were removed when the churchyard was remodeled.   

 1982 there was another landslip, not serious this time, just a small proportion of the retaining wall, and then in January 1983 there was another, more major landslip. This exposed he end of a large coffin and took a large section of the wall and a lot of earth into the River below.  I’d love to have seen the local paper that week!       

At that time it was also discovered that a family vault had been disturbed some years before. There were signs that the Stalybridge Body Snatchers had been at work as the coffin lids were off, some coffins were on their ends and all were empty.  However all that was in the past and the churchyard can now finally Rest in Peace and be enjoyed by all those who walk through it.    

Cocker Hill Churchyard; At Peace; May 2010

Calendar changes 1752

In 46 BC Julius Ceaser fixed the length of a year at 365 days, and 366 days every fourth year. He fixed the months at 30 & 31 days alternatively, with the exception of February (then the last month of the year) having 29 days in ordinary years and 30 in leap years. To mark this July was named after its originator.

The Julian calendar made a slight error in the length of a year (11 minutes 14 seconds). By the sixteenth century the cumulative error was about 10 days. Pope Gregory XIII rectified this in 1582 by decreeing that the 5th October become the 15th October and to stop it happening again it was ordained that the centurial years (i.e. 1600, 1700 etc) should not be leap years unless divisible by 400.

England did not accept this Gregorian calendar until 1752, thereby causing a lot of confusion between English and continental dates.

An Act of Parliament in 1750 made 2nd September 1752 into 14th September 1752 causing the residents of Cocker Hill (and the rest of England) to time travel 12 days into the future The Act also changed the start date of the new year to January.

Before 1752 the new-year began on 25th March. Ie 24th March 1700 was followed by 25th March 1701 etc. and 31st December 1700 was followed by 1st January 1700. Confusing? I thought so too, as when looking at old dates I automatically assume that January of a particular year came before December of the same year.

Cocker Hill, 2010

Guest post by Alan Mellor

It’s always great to hear of amazing things in the past. What never ceases to amaze me, though, is how the past tends to become the present. I write this in spring 2010 as a resident of Cocker Hill. There isn’t a church here anymore, and so no fantastic stories of 3,000 people gathered to see vicars at each others throats. There is the odd horse – the odd sheep grazing on the Churchyard, even – but no liveried huntsmen at funerals. Weaver’s cottages but no weavers. Pub visitors (ahem) but no pubs.

Massive change, perhaps as you might expect in quarter of a millennium of change and adjustment.

The weavers now live in China, and we buy their wares from Tesco. The pubs are still around, of course, just a little further away. Whilst not a major communications route by road, Cocker Hill – by virtue of its proximity to the telephone exchange – has probably the fastest broadband internet communications around. As such, perhaps it is no surprise to find it is home to an outpost of internet technology company http://www.yuuguu.com

Many things are the same. The cobbles are still here. A sense of local pride and neighbourly decency is here. But I think the similarities go even deeper.

Just as in 1750, when Cocker Hill was home to what were then the hi-tech industries of the day (steam power, textiles, precision instrument manufacturers) – it still is. Within walking distance are no less than two media companies ( www.greekblokeproductions.com and www.cockerhillmedia.net) and company specialising in Actor’s showreels (www.simplyshowreels.co.uk).

Perhaps there is something about the view from our windows that encourages looking up and dreaming positive dreams. Perhaps the area simply attracts – as it always has done – hard-working, creative people. I don’t know.

But I do know that Cocker Hill – both the street and the area – has been home to many interesting, challenging, creative people this last 250 years.

It looks well set to continue!

Numbers 23 – 25 Cocker Hill are pretty special. The cottages pre-date the Industrial Revolution and are among the oldest homes remaining in Stalybridge. I have not yet managed to find out exactly when they were built; 23 and 25 are recorded as being sold in 1750 and I’m guessing the others were in existence then too.

Forty five years later in 1795 the census recorded just thirty-four houses in the whole of Stalybridge

By 1831 this had risen to 2,357 houses

23 - 31 Cocker Hill September 2009

Census Returns – Cocker Hill – 1901



Relation to Head

Age Next


23 Cocker Hill Jesse Parkside Head 56 Cotton Yarn Merchant
Sarah C Parkside Wife 56
John K Parkside Son 19 Yarn Merchants Clerk
Geo Ed Parkside Son 14
25 Cocker Hill Robert W Saxon Head 41 General Property Repairer
Mary Saxon Wife 45
Harriet Saxon Dau 7
27 Cocker Hill Joseph Grims Head 52 Fitter, Cotton Machines
Elizabeth Grims Wife 52
Sarah Anne Grims Dau 25 Worker, Cotton Mill
Percy Stanley Grims Son 20 Hanson Driver (Groom)
29 Cocker Hill Fred Sinkinson Head 25 Drapers Assistant
Bertha Sinkinson Wife 25 Overlooker, Cotton Mill
31 Cocker Hill George W Newton Head 34 Railway Agent
Elizabeth Newton Wife 31
Norman Geo Newton Son 2

Census Returns – Cocker Hill – 1891

* Note there are two separate returns for 23 Cocker Hill on the 1891 Census



Relation to Head

Age Next


23 Cocker Hill* Edward Buckley Head 52 Mechanic
Betty Buckley Wife 52
James Buckley Son 23 Agent
23 Cocker Hill* James Cook Head 46 Mechanic
Eliza Ann Cook Wife 40
George Harry Cook Son 22 Mechanic
Elizabeth A Cook Dau 20 Cotton?
Roland Cook Son 18 Mechanic
Jane Cook Dau 16 Cotton yarn realer
Stanley Cook Son 15 Cotton Piecer
Edgar Cook Son 13 Cotton Piecer
Ernest Cook Son 11 Plate Printworks
Frederick Cook Son 7 Scholar
Clara Cook Dau 5 Scholar
Herbert Cook Son 2
Sarah Cook Mother 71
Hannah Cook Sister 50
25 Cocker Hill Robert W Saxon Head 31 Living on his own means
Mary Saxon Wife 31
27 Cocker Hill Jane Hawkins Head 49
John Hawkins Son 26 Blacksmiths
Harry Hawkins Son 22 Carter
George Hawkins Son 20 Steam Fitter (Apprentice)
James Hawkins Son 15 Cleaner/ locomotive
Emily Hawkins Dau 9 Scholar
Thomas Thompson Lodger 22 Corn Miller
29 Cocker Hill Alexander Robertson Head 44 Draper
Ann Robertson Wife 49
George E Petric Step Son 25 Draughtsman
Helena I Petric Step Dau 22
Richard Robertson Son 15 Clerk
Euphemia Robertson Dau 14
Alexander Robertson Son 9 Scholar
Elizabeth Dewhirst Mother in law 81
31 Cocker Hill Uninhabited

Census Returns – Cocker Hill – 1881



Relation to Head

Age Next


23 Cocker Hill Dan Woffinden Head 42 Draper
Delia Woffinden Wife 40
Annie Woffinden Dau 15 Scholar
Fanny Woffinden Dau 13 Scholar
Mary Woffinden Dau 11 Scholar
Mark Woffinden Son 9 Scholar
Charlotte Woffinden Dau 7 Scholar
Delia Woffinden Dau 5 Scholar
Lucy Woffinden Dau 3 Scholar
Hannah Woffinden Dau 1
25 Cocker Hill John W Marsland Head 31 Veterinary Surgeon
Louisa Marsland Wife 31
Gertrude Marland Sister in Law 24
27 Cocker Hill James Ellis Head 64 Agent
Harriet Ellis Wife 27
Annie Ellis Dau 4
Edward Son Son 2
Roshannah Ellis Dau 11
29 Cocker Hill Charles Baker Head 45 Alderman J.P. Linen Draper
Jayne Baker Wife 47
Bertha Baker Dau 21
Mary Baker Dau 20
Kenneth Mininak Apprentice 17 Drapers Apprentice
Fredrick Cooper Apprentice 16 Drapers Apprentice
Elizabeth Potts Servant 24 Domestic Servant
Mary A James Servant 21 Domestic Servant
31 Cocker Hill John Boradill Head 60 Lodge Keeper (Cotton Mill)
Jane Boradill Wife 45 Card room Cotton Mill
Elizabeth Boradill Dau 18 Card room Cotton Mill
Annie Sugden Niece 5 Scholar

Census Returns – Cocker Hill – 1871



Relation to Head

Age Next


23 Cocker Hill John Lawton Head 72 Corn Dealer
Mary Lawton Wife 72
Annie Lawton Dau 43
George Lawton Son 38 Corn Dealer
John Lawton Son 32 Bookkeeper
Margaret Lawton Dau 29
25 Cocker Hill Richard Batty Head 42 Cotton Spinner
Elizabeth Batty Wife 38 Housekeeper
John W Batty Son 13 Piecer in Cotton Mill
Harry Batty Son 11 Scholar
Edwin Batty Son 4 Scholar
Mary E Batty Dau 1
27 Cocker Hill Joseph Chadwick Head 51 Master Bobbin Turner – (Employing 9 men & 19 boys)
Grace Chadwick Wife 43 Wife
Joseph W Chadwick Son 16 Manager of Bobbin Shop
Luke Way Marsland Boarder 19 Solicitors Articled Clerk
29 Empty Uninhabited
31 Cocker Hill Joseph Conway Head 46 Manager of Cotton Mill
Jane Conway Wife 41
Mary Dean Relative 38
Elizabeth Sykes 16

Census Returns – Cocker Hill – 1861

House numbers not properly indexed – only number 31 available – others described as “Cocker Hill Brow” etc



Relation to Head

Age Next


31 Cocker Hill Matthew Lawton Head 58 Painter (Mill Machinery)
Sarah Lawton Sister 62
Henry Cook Lawton Nephew 21 Assistant Pawnbroker
Charles James Buckley Nephew 28 Waste Packer

Census Returns – Cocker Hill – 1851



Relation to Head

Age Next


23 Cocker Hill Edward Hunt Head 22 Cotton Spinner
Sarah Hunt Wife 30
25 Cocker Hill John (?Hatherford) Head 29 Tailor
Mary (?Hatherford) Wife 24
27 Cocker Hill Henry Heap Head 48 Auctioneer & Agent
Betty Heap Wife 48
Robert Heap Son 24 Auctioneer & Agent Assistant
Ann Heap Dau 22 Dress Maker
Edward Heap Son 21 Druggist Assistant
29 Cocker Hill Joseph Worsnip Head 33 Mechanic
Sarah Worsnip Wife 33
Ann Worsnip Dau 9 Scholar
James Worsnip Son 4 Scholar
Richard Worsnip Son 2
(Hamilton) Worsnip Son 1
31 Cocker Hill James Sidebottom Head 26 Cotton Masters Son
Margaret Sidebottom Wife 22
Mary A Wilkin Servant 24 House Servant


A few photos of the area from our albums.

Old St Georges Churchyard, Cocker Hill from Rock Cottage September 2009


Rock Cottage gateposts to Shawmoor; September 2009


Cocker Hill cobbles September 2009


Old St Georges Churchyard, Cocker Hill; September 2009


Old St Georges Churchyard; October 2009


Rock Cottage, Cocker Hill; October 2009


Cocker Hill looking towards Holy Trinity Church and Stalybrige Civic Hall; January 2010


Bohemia Cottages; April 2010



Rock Cottage, rear view; July 2009


Rock Cottage, July 2009


Cocker Hill Churchyard May 2010


Cocker Hill Churchyard; May 2010


Stormy Weather; Shawmoor from Cocker Hill.

Full Moon; Mottram Road from Cocker Hill

According to Rob Magee’s book – Stalybridge Pubs and their licensees 1750 – 1990 there were at least two pubs on Cocker Hill back in the 1800’s. Sadly they are long gone now. How my husband wishes they were still here; he has to walk all the way to the Stalybridge Buffet Bar instead. 

The Pack Horse Inn / The Chapel Inn – 21 Cocker Hill 

From the address I understand The Pack Horse Inn was lower down Cocker Hill than St Georges Church and on the opposite side of the road. (NB as Rock House is currently number 23, the Inn could have been where Blandford Court is now, however it appears re-numbering buildings was fairly common in the 1800s so I can’t be sure.) 

The name presumably comes from the fact that Cocker Hill used to be the main pack horse route over to Yorkshire. 

The road at the side of the inn was once called Hall Street, probably after Joseph Hall who was the innkeeper from 1808 – 1828. Joseph Hall was the son of Joseph Hall who bought Rock Cottage in Nov 1750. The Hall family owned Rock Cottage until 1811. 

1808 – 1828 Joseph Hall 

1828 – 1833 Philip Buckley 

1833 – 1842 James Heap 

James Heap renamed the pub the Chapel Inn when he became licensee; possibly as a result of the bad reputation it had as a meeting place for the body snatchers

The Inn was converted into one, or possibly 2 houses in 1842. 

Star Inn – 1 Cocker Hill 1831-1930 

The Star in public house opened around 1831, shortly after Stamford Street had been constructed, and the address was originally given as Stamford Street. 

It changed to Cocker Hill in 1836. The pub closed in 1930. 

1831 – 1832 Joseph Heywood 

1833 – 1836 John Norton 

1836 – 1848 Ralph Lawton 

1850 – 1861 Aaron Swallow 

1868 – 1871 Joseph Ball 

1872 – 1873 Colin Ridge 

1873 – 1874 Thomas Ambler 

1881 – 1882 David Cordingley 

1887 – 1896 Thomas Eastwood 

1898 – 1906 John Hobson 

1907 – 1908 Samuel Marston 

1909 – 1912 Charles W Sharples 

1912 – 1922 William Hallas 

1922 – 1924 Percy Waterhouse 

1925 – 1926 Fred Mills 

1927 – 1928 George E Powell 

1928 – 1930 James Burke

Rock Cottage was built prior to 1750 and as such is one of the earliest homes in Stalybridge. Detailed below is a list of the owners from 1750 to 2000.

Pre 1750

Most of the Land in this area was originally owned by the Earl of Stamford however in this case the land appears to have been owned by the Dukinfields.

1750 – Samuel Dukinfield

The earliest reference I can find for the house was 1750 when Samuel Dukinfield sold Rock Cottage and Rock House (then described as “…. a messe & tenement & several closes of land) to Joseph Hall of Cocker Hill in the parish of Ashton Under Lyne. The land was described as part of the Cocker Hill Estate.

1750 – 1764 Joseph Hall

Joseph Hall bought the property in November 1750. He was described as a Clothier. He died in 1764.

In his will Joseph Hall left the cottage to his sons. George Hall Clothier, Joseph Hall Publican and Neddy Shelmerdine Clothier. Why one of Joseph Hall’s son was a Shelmerdine rather than a Hall I don’t know (yet).

1764 – 1804 George Hall, Clothier, Joseph Hall, Publican and Neddy Shelmerdine, Clothier

From the book Stalybridge Pubs 1750-1990 Rob Magee I know that Joseph Hall (publican) was the innkeeper of the Pack Horse Inn, Cocker Hill from 1808 – 1828

Joseph Hall gets a further mention in this blog as it appears could have been a victim of the infamous Body snatchers. I’ve never seen a ghost; I’m not sure if I believe in them anyway; but if I did want to frighten anyone at Halloween I could dim the lights and talk of the body snatchers taking Joseph Hall off to the surgeons in Manchester………

In Bygone Stalybridge by Samuel Hill there is a reference to a Joseph Hall; born 1787 died 1864.  Could he have been a relation to the other Joseph Halls? It describes this Joseph Hall as being connected with the Staly Hunt and describes his burial in the Cocker Hill church yard “attended by upwards of a hundred devout followers of the chase, many of them dressed in their well-worn livery, and attended by their faithful hounds”.  Apparently the sight provided material for a Lancashire sketch entitled “The Huntsman’s Funeral” by Ben Brierey.  Joseph Hall’s gravestone is still in the Churchyard.

Joseph Hall, Huntsman

  1804 – John Hall?

This is where things get confusing…….from an Abstract of title of Thomas Walker 1873 it appears that the property was sold at auction to John Hall for £359. It then looks like John Hall planned to transfer the sale onward to Samuel Gartside (Publican) for £20, however although the £20 was paid it appears that sale did not go through and the property reverted back to previous owners.

Indenture of lease and release dated 15th/16th February 1811 confirms that the sale to Samuel Gartside did not go through & states that the property reverted back to the trustees. (George Hall, Joseph Hall, & Neddy Shelmerdine).

Next it states that James Hall (cotton manufacturer) was a part owner too and that “he produced documents to show that he was the owner of the largest and most profitable lot”.

The indenture then states that the three properties were to be sold to Rev John Cape Atty – Clerk in holy orders for £355.10/.

Rev Cape Atty also paid Samuel Gartside (publican) & Edward Gartside (cotton manufacturer) 5/- a piece to confirm that they had no claim on the land or 3 houses.

1811 – 1822 Rev. John Cape-Atty

Rev Cape Atty was curate of Old St Georges From April 1807 to his death in 1822.

Rev Cape Atty talks of the house in the “Articles of Enquiry” (a questionnaire, completed by Atty, for the Bishop of Chester). In the questionnaire he states “I reside in a house close to the Chapel, which House I bought at some inconvenience, by the Desire of my Congregation, …………………….It is a substantial Stone Building, with a stable and Cow-house on the premises. Also a garden.”  I think that the stable and cow house he refers to is actually Rock Cottage’s kitchen.  The reference to “some inconvenience” over the purchase probably relates to the uncertainty regarding the previous ownership.

Rev. Atty’s will dated 2/3/1818 left Rock Cottage to his sister Sarah, wife of John walker, in trust for her sole use and further trust that it should pass through her will to her kids and grandkids.

John Walker (coal merchant) (Sarah’s son & his nephew) and Ralph Hall (cotton spinner) (Sarah’s son in law) were appointed executors.

Rev John Cape Atty dies and is buried in the Cocker Hill graveyard 20 May 1822.

1822 – 1835 Sarah Walker

Sarah had 3 kids John Walker, Thomas Walker and Elizabeth Hall (wife of Ralph Hall.) Sarah Walker died and was buried on Cocker Hill 22 October 1835. It looks as though she did not make a will leaving the Cocker Hill Houses to her kids – it is not clear what happened next.

I think it was shared between her three children: John Walker (coal merchant), Thomas Walker (coal merchant) and Elizabeth Hall.

1835 – 1853 John Walker (coal merchant), Thomas Walker (coal merchant) and Elizabeth Hall.

Then it looks as though Ralph & Elizabeth Hall sold their share to Edward Appleton. The new owners were presumably John Walker, Thomas Walker and Edward Appleton

John Walker died 9/8/1853 & his will dated 6 May 1951 left an annuity of £500 to Barbara Walker his wife and left his share of the Houses to his brother Thomas Walker (Sarah’s other son possibly) along with other property.

Barbara Walker died 4/5/1872 without children.(buried in Maryport)

1853 – 1873 Thomas Walker – from Maryport in the County of Cumberland

Thomas Walker, Sold both properties at Auction in 1881, by Messrs Henry Heap & Son at Commercial Inn, Stalybridge

1873 – 1881 Thomas Alexander Skirvin Saxon – Manager of A Cotton Mill

Thomas Alexander Skirvin  Saxon bought the cottage at Auction on 19/11/1873 at The Commercial Inn. He  paid for & took ownership on 31 December 1873.

Thomas was married to Harriet Ann Saxon

Thomas is apparently pictured 3rd from the left on the picture below; doesn’t he look smart in his top hat!

Chapel Street Sunday School, built in 1815. From left to right; Allen Wilde, Robert Platt Whitworth, Thomas A. S. Saxon and James Moore (From: ‘United Methodist Centenary Souvenir’, 1915

Thomas Alexander Skirvin Saxon died 24/1/1881

1881 – 1888 Harriet Ann Saxon

Harriet Ann Saxon died 1 February 1888 and left the property to Robert Whitworth Saxon.

1888 – 1929 Robert Whitworth Saxon (Mechanic) & (Mrs) Mary Saxon

Robert Whitworth Saxon died 2 September 1929.

His will was dated 17/March 1914. He appointed his wife Mary as Executor.

1929 – 1936 Mary Saxon

Mary Saxon died 27/02/1936 and left the property to her daughter Harriet Shaw

1936 – 1960 (Mrs) Harriet Shaw

Harriet Shaw died 14/08/1960.

1960 – 1961 Executors of the Estate of Harriet Shaw

1961 – 1982 Noel Backhouse

(Green Grocer) & (Mrs) Elizabeth Backhouse

Noel Backhouse died 14/01/1982

1982 – 1989 (Mrs) Elizabeth Backhouse

Elizabeth Backhouse Sold the property in 1989 and moved into Blandford Court just behind Rock Cottage.

Rock Cottage, July 2009


200 years ago there were no accurate models of human bodies for Doctors to train on. People didn’t leave their bodies to “medical science” so it was difficult to train Doctors and Surgeons. The only bodies Doctors were allowed to dissect for training were the cadavers of those who had received the death penalty for a crime. With an increase in medical schools and less harsher sentencing the Doctors did not have enough cadavers to allow them to train properly so they turned to body snatchers to supply bodies fresh enough to be examined.

Body snatching became so common in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial, and then to keep watch over the grave after burial, to stop it being stolen.

During 1827 and 1828, some body snatchers changed their tactics from grave-robbing to murder, as they were paid more for very fresh corpses. Their activities resulted in the passage of the Anatomy Act 1832. This allowed unclaimed bodies and those donated by the deceased’s family to be used for study which essentially ended the body snatching trade.

Stalybridge was not without its own band of Body Snatchers. Captain Sellars and his band of resurrectionists met in the Pack Horse Inn on Cocker Hill to plan and plot and the graveyard itself was pilfered many times.

The following is taken from the book “Reminiscences of a Chief Constable” by William Chadwick. William Chadwick was made Chief Constable of Stalybridge in 1862 and remained there until he retired in 1899.

“It was on a certain night, over sixty years ago, three men assembled in the bar parlour of the “Pack Horse ” Stalyley, smoking out of long clay pipes and drinking glasses of spirits. The evening was so far advanced that the spindle had ceased to whirl and the shuttle to rattle, and all was quiet save the heavy steps of the watchman proclaiming the hour in the lower portion of the village, varied by the screeching noise of an owl in the wood on the opposite side of the River. The men were deeply engaged in conversation carried on in an undertone, and there was such an air of mysteriousness about their conduct that the host was anxious for the room……..”

How good a start is that to a story? Love it.

After the described meeting in the pub the three  proceeded to Mottram Churchyard where they stole a body and placed it in a sack in a hamper and took it to a stable in Stalybridge. Later the following day a carrier’s cart received the hamper and took it on to Manchester. A well organised trade involving most of the graveyards in the area.

Another mention of Cocker Hill in William Chadwick’s account concerns a John Chadwick (no relation). John apparently had a strange way of walking and a slight speech impediment causing him to say “Bup a den”. Upon his death he was buried in the Cockerhill Churchyard. The doctors were specially anxious for his body as they thought it was likely to possess some peculiar features. A good sum was offered and the body snatchers went to work in earnest. The men were just lifting the body out of the coffin to put  it in a hamper, when the wind, whistling among the tombstones seemed to say “Bup a den”. At this one of the robbers took to his heels, and in his fright jumped over the graveyard wall, rolled down the hill to the river.

This and other cases caused a further search of the graveyard and it was discovered that the bodies were missing of old Joseph Platt, carrier, Rassbottom Street; old Joseph Hall, clothier, Cocker Hill. Joseph Hall has special significance to me as he could have been one of  Joseph Halls who owned Rock Cottage on Cocker Hill many years ago.

The Churchwardens at Cocker Hill prohibited the opening of any more graves to check the occupants; however when the graveyard was remodeled in 1972 it was noted that a number of the graves were empty.

The photo below shows one of the gravestones still in the Cocker Hill Graveyard with the Caption “This grave not to be re opened”. Whether that stone was first moved by Captain Sellars and his gang or when the graveyard was remodeled I wouldn’t like to say!

Cocker Hill Churchyard; Gravestones now used as a path into the town.


You can find a full list of the burial records for Old St Georges Churchyard together with the gravestone inscriptions on the website for New St Georges Church Stalybridge. Burial records Old St Georges.